By Erika Herz
Companies are struggling to make sense of the ramifications of artificial intelligence (AI) for their countries and for their firms as the technology rapidly transforms nearly every core business function. And national differences are evident in how these corporations implement AI solutions, according to senior business leaders from India. They gathered on 7–8 February in Bengaluru for the University of Virginia Darden School of Business’ Global Innovators Roundtable, a series of seminar-style discussions hosted in the United States, Asia and Europe.
The roundtable, sponsored by Darden’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, brought together Indian executives from sectors including health care, financial services and technology to discuss how they are capitalizing upon — and challenged by — the AI revolution. The eight firms represented ranged from established corporates to AI-focused startups: Siemens, Roche Diagnostics, Titan Company Ltd., Nirvana Venture Advisors, Integra Connect, TotalStart Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Developers, Vida Promotions and eventValue.
Professors Raj Venkatesan, and Dennis Yang facilitated the roundtable, opening the discussion with their views on the trajectory of AI in China, India, the United States and Europe through the lenses of their respective academic areas — marketing and economics.
As participants shared their experiences with AI products and services, the conversation centered on the strategies that enterprises and governments should deploy. Venkatesan and Yang noted that the technology raises more uncertainties than it resolves, both operationally and ethically, and that each country competes differently.
According to Yang, “Geographical context is exceptionally relevant, whether you’re based in India, China or the U.S. For example, in the U.S., entrepreneurs are the catalysts for AI, organically developing and securing funding for AI-enabled products and services. In China, however, a top-down strategy is underway, with the government aggressively investing in — and moving forward — an AI agenda. Conversely, in India successful technology company leaders, feeling that they struggle with inconsistent and changing government policies, are pushing to succeed in spite of them.”
Who Owns the Data?
Data collection strategies, in particular, reflect the economic and cultural differences among AI superpowers, namely the U.S., China, India and Europe, as they establish frameworks relating to who owns the data and their degrees of freedom to use the vast amount collected.
U.S. companies such as Google hold the information they gather from customers, which provides a competitive advantage for development of customized, AI-enabled products and services. The Chinese government invests heavily in AI infrastructure and state-owned companies, retaining much of the data generated from market and commercial activities. Meanwhile, Europe prioritizes consumer privacy rights, allowing those users dominion over the use of any data they provide. Ultimately, the choice of data owners and new technology beneficiaries — whether companies, governments or consumers — reflect each nation’s prioritization among its stakeholders.
While India’s AI sector is nascent and investment may lag behind that of other economies, roundtable participants said the startup sector focused on AI is extremely vibrant. AI is a clear focus for both the private sector and the government, particularly given the technology’s potential to positively impact the country’s 1.3 billion citizens.
Participants agreed that AI offers both challenges and opportunities for leaders of companies in the Indian marketplace and beyond.
“One of the critical issues to be resolved as AI becomes an integral part of the products and services consumers use is who has control of the data, and what should be the rights and responsibilities of citizens, corporations and governments?” said Rajan Mehra (MBA ’93), co-founder and managing director of early stage technology venture adviser Nirvana Venture Advisors. “Above all, what can AI do, but also what should it not do?”
Data: The Most Valuable Asset
Looking more deeply at the implications of data collection capabilities, Venkatesan noted that in an AI-enabled world, companies are generally at a disadvantage relative to established social networks.
“We can think about an AI data platform as a network of consumers with various nodes, each a product or service provider,” Venkatesan said. “The world has evolved such that the network — whether Facebook, Instagram or any other social site allowing for exchange of information — is the driver of value, not the individual node, or firm.”
He explained that even major consumer packaged goods companies are just one node in that network of users, making it difficult for them to gain insights about, or attention from, consumers. “It’s incredibly difficult for marketers to increase market share or margin growth in the face of that,” he said. “The companies are finding themselves at what could be considered AI ‘moments of truth.’” In other words, they are figuring out how to transform the consumer-brand moments of truth with AI.
Obtaining meaningful data from social networking sites or company websites can provide a gold mine of insights to aid in this process and avoid catastrophic product launch failures. “Customer lifecycles are changing. We need to know what solutions they will be looking for in the future in order to develop a product that will help them,” said Sumant Sood, head of innovation for Titan Company Ltd.
AI for Good: Solving Intractable Societal Issues
Mehra encouraged fellow roundtable participants to consider how business leaders “can harness AI in order to serve India’s large population and lift people’s lives while making a profit.”
He and Ravi Madipadaga, head of research in digitalization and automation for Siemens, voiced the benefits of AI to achieve societal progress. “Only 650 ophthalmology retina specialists are available in India, primarily limited to metropolitan areas, to provide care to the 70 million individuals in the country needing eye care for diabetic retinopathy and related disorders,” Madipadaga said. “Artificial intelligence will be essential to deliver care where humans simply can’t. Companies such as Forus Health and Zeiss are already using it for screening and detecting issues in the retina. As the machines learn over time, they are even better able than a human to interpret a tissue sample.”
Further, just as AI can more easily meet the needs of growing populations, it offers the potential to fill gaps in the workforce for those that are shrinking. Jitendra Gupta (MBA ’08), president of global operations at Integra Connect, noted that in Europe a declining population means that the labor force is contracting. AI may be helpful in fulfilling roles previously held by humans.
About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D. and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.